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Contractor revealed for Niagara County solar panel project

LOCKPORT – An Amherst company may be the vendor and power producer for an elaborate solar energy deal with Niagara County.

Solar Liberty Energy Systems would be given the right to make a 20-year power purchase agreement with the county after installing three large arrays of solar panels on county land in Lockport, Cambria and Wheatfield.

The full County Legislature will vote on the arrangement at a special session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, after two committees approved it Monday.

Officials project savings of $4.8 million over the next 20 years on power bills for county facilities.

The sites, each boasting at least 1.8 megawatts of electric generation capacity, would be placed atop Landfill 2 in the Refuse District complex off the Lockport Bypass; on Junction Road in Cambria, where the county bought a field in the so-far unfulfilled hope of erecting a new Public Works headquarters; and at the county Sewer District treatment plant on Liberty Drive in Wheatfield.

As part of the contract, the county hopes to work out some means of creating a dedicated revenue source from the solar deal to pay for decades of state-mandated monitoring of three closed Lockport landfills.

Legislator Mark J. Grozio, D-Niagara Falls, said he also wants the contract to include provisions to require use of local labor.

Over 20 years, the county would pay nearly $8.4 million up front for the electricity, but credits are supposed to total $13.2 million during the two decades.

A memorandum from Refuse Disposal District Director Dawn M. Timm to legislators noted that the deal carries risk for the county. If the credits, which are subject to market conditions, fall below the agreement with Solar Liberty, the county will pay the difference.

In the first year, Timm said, the county will purchase power for 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, but the county is to receive credits on its utility bills of 10.7 cents per kilowatt-hour in New York State Electric & Gas Corp. territory, and 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour from National Grid.

Solar Liberty, regarded by county officials as offering the best deal of the six bidders, would receive state and federal tax credits, which expire at the end of 2016, which, therefore, is the practical deadline for completing construction.